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This is a cross post from Heather Leson, Community Engagement Director at the Open Knowledge Foundation. The original post appeared here on the School of Data site.

by Heather Leson

What is the currency of change? What can coders (consumers) do with IATI data? How can suppliers deliver the data sets? Last week I had the honour of participating in the Open Data for Development Codeathon and the International Aid Transparency Initiative Technical Advisory Group meetings. IATI’s goal is to make information about aid spending easier to access, use, and understand. It was great that these events were back-to-back to push a big picture view.

My big takeaways included similar themes that I have learned on my open source journey:

You can talk about open data [insert tech or OS project] all you want, but if you don’t have an interactive community (including mentorship programmes), an education strategy, engagement/feedback loops plan, translation/localization plan and a process for people to learn how to contribute, then you build a double-edged barrier: barrier to entry and barrier for impact/contributor outputs.

Currency

About the Open Data in Development Codeathon

At the Codathon close, Mark Surman, Executive Director of Mozilla Foundation, gave us a call to action to make the web. Well, in order to create a world of data makers, I think we should run aid and development processes through this mindset. What is the currency of change? I hear many people talking about theory of change and impact, but I’d like to add ‘currency’. This is not only about money, this is about using the best brainpower and best energy sources to solve real world problems in smart ways. I think if we heed Mark’s call to action with a “yes, and”, then we can rethink how we approach complex change. Every single industry is suffering from the same issue: how to deal with the influx of supply and demand in information. We need to change how we approach the problem. Combined events like these give a window into tackling problems in a new format. It is not about the next greatest app, but more about asking: how can we learn from the Webmakers and build with each other in our respective fields and networks?

Ease of Delivery

The IATI community / network is very passionate about moving the ball forward on releasing data. During the sessions, it was clear that the attendees see some gaps and are already working to fill them. The new IATI website is set up to grow with a Community component. The feedback from each of the sessions was distilled by the IATI – TAG and Civil Society Guidance groups to share with the IATI Secretariat.

In the Open Data in Development, Impact of Open Data in Developing Countries, and CSO Guidance sessions, we discussed some key items about sharing, learning, and using IATI data. Farai Matsika, with International HIV/Aids Alliance, was particularly poignant reminding us of IATI’s CSO purpose – we need to share data with those we serve.

Country edits IATI

One of the biggest themes was data ethics. As we rush to ask NGOs and CSOs to release data, what are some of the data pitfalls? Anahi Ayala Iaccuci of Internews and Linda Raftree of Plan International USA both reminded participants that data needs to be anonymized to protect those at risk. Ms. Iaccuci asked that we consider the complex nature of sharing both sides of the open data story – successes and failures. As well, she advised: don’t create trust, but think about who people are trusting. Turning this model around is key to rethinking assumptions. I would add to her point: trust and sharing are currency and will add to the success measures of IATI. If people don’t trust the IATI data, they won’t share and use it.

Anne Crowe of Privacy International frequently asked attendees to consider the ramifications of opening data. It is clear that the IATI TAG does not curate the data that NGOS and CSOs share. Thus it falls on each of these organizations to learn how to be data makers in order to contribute data to IATI. Perhaps organizations need a lead educator and curator to ensure the future success of the IATI process, including quality data.

I think that School of Data and the Partnership for Open Data have a huge part to play with IATI. My colleague Zara Rahman is collecting user feedback for the Open Development Toolkit, and Katelyn Rogers is leading the Open Development mailing list. We collectively want to help people become data makers and consumers to effectively achieve their development goals using open data. This also means also tackling the ongoing questions about data quality and data ethics.


Here are some additional resources shared during the IATI meetings.

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I had a doctor’s appointment a couple months ago, and my doctor asked me if it was OK for a student to do the prep work, you know, the usual: height, weight, temperature, blood pressure, the like. I said sure.

What I didn’t expect though, was that the student intern was going to read through a list of health questions to try to find out if I was menopausal. Nothing against menopause – it’s a natural thing and I think some women even look forward to it. But I just turned 42, and no, I’m not having hot flashes quite yet.

I suppose it’s some kind of mandatory thing to ask a woman who is in her 40s a series of questions like that. And to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have minded if it had been my doctor asking me. I’ve been seeing her for years now, she knows me, and she knows how to ask questions in the right way. I trust her.

But sitting up on an examination table in a sterile room, clothes off save for an oversized paper gown that keeps falling off my shoulder, with a 20-something I’ve never met sitting in front of me asking if I’m incontinent, suffer from bouts of depression, and have loss of libido was a bit off putting.

It made me want to lie to her. To not reveal any sign of potential menopausal weakness. To tell her that I never feel fatigued. That I never, ever forget anything, and that I am never ever ever distracted or unfocused. I secretly shunned all her suggestions. Calcium? nope, not taking it. Multi vitamins, pah, I feel fine. Let’s get this interview over with STAT.

It felt disempowering to have this young woman, who I don’t know and haven’t developed any trust in, asking me very personal questions about myself and my life and offering scripted solutions to something she imagined I might have, and that she’d obviously never experienced herself.  Since then, I’ve been thinking about it off and on, and related life stories come to mind.

—–

Julia*, someone I was very close to in my Barrio in El Salvador (where I lived for most of the 90s) had a long history of domestic abuse. She would talk to me about it all the time – she still lived with the man, who had tapered off a bit as he got older but who was still not entirely pleasant to her. She would get depressed sometimes and talk about leaving, but she never did. As I got to know her better, I realized my role in the relationship was not trying to find solutions, or criticizing the man, or feeling enraged. It was listening and not judging. An older woman, with a small pension. Where would she go? She believed that she would be seen by the neighbors as weak, and that people would lose respect for her. She really didn’t have a lot of options. So she’d tell me and I’d listen, and that was enough. I’d tell her my work troubles too, and she’d listen, and that was also enough for me. I realize as I write this how much I miss her.

About 15 years ago at work, while still in El Salvador, I was responsible for overseeing a study on gender violence that a partner organization was carrying out and that we were funding. It was going to be a door-to-door survey mixed with some focus group discussions. I immediately thought of Julia; of all the women in the Barrio. I thought ‘Julia would never tell anyone the truth if they came knocking on her door to interview her about domestic violence.’ She would say no, that doesn’t happen here, and close the door until they went away. I doubt any of the other women in the Barrio would have acted any differently.

I felt pretty sure that the information that was produced in that study on domestic violence was not going to be valid, even though it was being managed by a group of well-known, well-educated Salvadoran feminists.  But I felt like I couldn’t say anything, because I wasn’t a well known local feminist. And after all, they’d often imply, what did I know about El Salvador? I was a foreigner. What I did feel certain about was that no one in the Barrios where they wanted to do their study was going to tell them the truth.

—–

And somehow related to that, I started thinking about the time I went to the doctor’s office with my mother-in-law, a brilliant, strong and upright woman from the Barrio, with a 6th grade education, who would be considered ‘impoverished’ by most standards. I remember vividly a young male doctor who addressed her using the familiar form of ‘you’ (vos) instead of using the respectful form of ‘you’ (Usted). I remember being furious. I don’t even use vos with my mother-in-law, out of respect. What was this young, wealthy doctor doing using it? I hated seeing her stripped of her well-earned Barrio respect once she entered the doctor’s office, just because she was poor.

—–

What am I trying to say here? I’m not entirely sure, but I guess I’m thinking about respect and the hierarchies of information and education and offices, and the importance of developing a rapport with people before you go prying around in their personal lives and offering solutions.

I’m relating that to ‘aid’ and ‘development’ work, which in my world, is an intensely personal thing. I try to work from the heart, and I hope I’m never making people feel belittled, judged, or like they need to lie to me or conceal things from me because I haven’t taken the time to get to know them. I hope I’m not disrespecting anyone, knowingly or unknowingly, and that I’m not messing around in things that are none of my business or where I haven’t got an invitation. I hope I’m not always trying to offer solutions, but rather listening and supporting people to come to their own conclusions. I hope I don’t make people feel like they are sitting, half naked on an examination table, while someone who knows nothing about them or their life politely asks them some standard questions and comes up with some generic recommendations for how to prevent or cure something they may or may not have or may not think is an illness.

*Not her real name

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